By Hilary Genders
From “India’s Silicon Valley” to “God’s Own Country”, “The Scotland of India” to the “Queen of the Hill Stations”, the southern Indian states of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu offer visitors a wealth of cultural, historical and natural treasures. Here is a small sampling of Southern India’s many gems.
Capital of the state of Karnataka, Bangalore is India’s third largest city and the centre of the country’s rapid economic and technological revolution. Often referred to as “India’s Silicon Valley”, it is also known as “the Garden City of India.” Two of its gardens, Lal Bagh and Cubbon Park, are among Bangalore’s top attractions.
Approximately 350 kilometres north, the village of Hampi is a popular destination for travellers. Just outside the village is the ancient city of Vijayanagara, once the centre of the mighty Vijayanagar Empire, whose leaders were great patrons of art and architecture. Evidence of this can be seen in the magnificent ruins spread over a 26-square-kilometre area.
Less than 150 kilometres southwest of Bangalore is the imperial city of Mysore, also known as the “Fragrant Sandalwood City” and the “City of Palaces”. One of the most impressive of these is Amba Vilas, the “Palace of Mysore”, a masterpiece of Indo-Saracenic design that blends Hindu, Islamic, Gujurati and European Gothic elements.
About 120 kilometres to the west lies Madikeri, the district headquarters of Kodagu, once known as Coorg. Dubbed “the Scotland of India”, the region offers lush forests and hills to explore, punctuated by picture-perfect, colourful cottages. It is also India’s coffee-growing centre.
The state of Kerala, sometimes referred to as “God’s own country”, occupies a narrow strip of land on India’s southwest coast, bordered by the Lakshadweep Sea to the west, Karnataka to the north, and Tamil Nadu to the east. Its coastal region features several tidal lagoons; backwaters cruises – either day excursions or overnight/multi-night houseboat vacations – are among the state’s most popular tourism activities. It is also home to some of India’s best beaches, including those at Kovalam and Varkala.
The city of Kochi (formerly known as Cochin), Kerala's prime tourist destination, is spread in sections: Ernakulam, the modern, commercial centre, is located in the east, the more tourist-friendly districts of Mattancherry and Fort Cochin on a peninsula in the west. Ferries connect the different parts of the city.
Fort Cochin is famous for its Chinese fishing nets, huge, cantilevered contraptions first brought here by traders from the court of Kublai Khan and still used daily. Beachfront restaurants specializing in cooking what their guests “catch” from the local fishermen just steps away.
The Dilly Lama
Other Kerala must-sees and include a visit to an ayurvedic health resorts, taking in a performance of traditional Kathakali dancing and viewing elephants, deer, and, for the lucky, the occasional tiger at the Periyar (Thekkady) Wildlife Sanctuary.
Known as the cradle of south Indian temple architecture, Tamil Nadu is a living museum of styles that originated in the seventh century and matured in the huge temple complexes studded with towering gateways –"Gopurams" – that soar above the markets of almost every town. The colourful Meenakshi temple in the city of Madurai is an absolute must-see, as are those at Mahabalipuram, a seventh-century port city around 60 kilometres south of Chennai. Believed to have been named after the Pallava king Mamalla, the city has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Wandering Angel
Other top temple sites are found along the Coromandel Coast at Kanchipuram, Chidambaram, Kumbakonam, Rameswaram and Kanaykumari.
LuistHeading inland, Udhagamandalam (Ooty), is the capital of Nilgiri district and is popularly known as the “Queen of hill stations” among the tourist circuits. At an elevation between 2,280 and 2,290 metres, the town offers travellers cool relief. Ooty is famous for its tea estates; the annual Tea and Tourism Festival, held in February, attracts crowds in huge numbers.